A tragedy close to home: Ohio editors reflect after events in Annapolis
By Olivia Wile, ONMA intern
Though the violence in Annapolis last week is another gun-related tragedy felt across the country, for local newspapers, it’s a wakeup call.
“It’s a trying time in a lot of corners in America,” stated Todd Franko, editor of the Youngstown Vindicator. “The Annapolis attack shows that we as journalists are not removed from the trying times we are in.”
On June 28, Jarrod Ramos opened fire on the reporters at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. The 38-year-old was motivated by a failed defamation lawsuit against the paper in 2011. Ramos reportedly barricaded the backdoor, shot through the glass of the building and opened fire on the staff, killing five.
Despite mass shootings becoming increasingly common, the event hits closer to home for those in the industry. Franko knows journalism has never been a stranger to scrutiny or anger from some readers, but the potential for violence remained only a concern, not a reality.
“I think it’s an issue we all feared and, thus, when it happened, it caused tremendous pause,” said Franko. “We know day-in and day-out we test the nerves and patience of a lot of people. We’ve had run-ins before, and you always wonder if this could happen.”
Kurt Franck, president and general manager of the Toledo Blade, says it has made him think twice about how to handle any backlash towards his paper.
“He had a grudge against the paper,” stated Franck about Ramos. “We’ve had some [staff] say, ‘We have upset some people over the years,’ so we’re watching to see if we’ve made anyone particularly mad so that they would be coming after us.”
Following the event, Franck says The Blade has been fortunate to have the support of a strong, local police force.
“We’ve been lucky enough that our police department realizes that newspapers and the news organizations are targets for anyone,” explained Franck. “The last couple of days they have been driving around our building and other news organizations in the Toledo area.”
Vice President and Editor of the Akron Beacon Journal Bruce Winges says the event has prompted him to review safety at his own paper.
“We’ll be discussing that. This makes us pause and just see what we have in place, make sure entrances are secured and so forth,” said Winges.
For small papers, like the Journal and Noble County Leader in Caldwell, new safety measurements are difficult. Editor Anne Chlovechok says the doors at her office must remain unlocked.
“You walk in the news area, and you’re in,” said Chlovechok. She says the paper recently rearranged the setup of the front entrance, but did nothing that would prevent an active shooter. “That isn’t going to stop a bullet. If someone decided to come in and take us out, they’re going to take us out.”
The violence in Annapolis prompted Chlovechok to think twice about a controversial story she published just last week. She feels this same reflection may happen around the industry.
“It might affect the way people write stories,” explained Chlovechok. “It might make them think twice about what they take on.”
Winges says the event reinforces that gun control is an issue that needs to be addressed.
“I don’t think its unique to journalists, we’re seeing it all over the place,” said Winges. “It’s something we need to face as a society and figure out how we want to address this issue.”
According to Franko, America’s current political climate also makes it difficult for journalists.
“Historically, it’s always been a love-hate, and right now it’s challenged even more due to our president and his excessive commentary.”
In light of the tragedy at the Gazette, Franck does believe, however, there is a positive takeaway: Journalists are humans, too.
“They do play a big part of the fabric of a community, and I think that’s what happened as a result of this,” said Franck. “People now realize these people have a job just like everyone else.
“I think the respect for the news media, at least this week, is better than it was a week ago.”
Olivia Wile of Hilliard, Ohio, is a journalism student at the University of Findlay and the Ohio News Media Foundation summer intern.